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Out of Africa

by Michael Ford last modified 11 Jun, 2020 04:40 PM

A local missionary pilot and her family found themselves stranded in Africa, in 2 separate countries, by the coronavirus pandemic.

A pilot and Operations Manager for the Christian organisation MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) - the world’s largest humanitarian airline - Becki Dillingham left her husband Matt and 2 young children in Chad while she flew to Uganda just a week before the Uk went into Lockdown.

Becky had planned to undertake a couple of weeks training as part of her work transporting life-saving healthcare, food and relief personnel to hundreds of isolated villages.

“Coronavirus was so far from us in Africa, it never crossed my mind not to travel,” recalls Becki, who had planned to return after a few weeks.

The family was counting down the days, but little did the Dillinghams know they would be separated for over a month, as Africa suddenly entered a state of lockdown.

“When our countdown chart ran out, we really started to struggle,” admits Becki.

“The trickiest thing was not knowing when we would see each other. It was an emotional rollercoaster.”

Catching a repatriation flight in early April, Becki joined her in-laws in lockdown, setting up an MAF operations centre from their conservatory in Dorset – not knowing if her family, still stranded in Chad, would be able to join her.

“It felt bizarre and risky,” admits Becki, “leaving a country with only 20 coronavirus cases for one with 1000s of deaths. All we could do was pray to be together again.”

Matt and the children eventually flew from Chad to London via Paris on a French military flight – a long and challenging journey.

With all facilities closed in Paris, the only way to feed his children was a vending machine. “With nowhere to break a 20-euro note, we ended up begging, and a kind person gave us change,” says Matt.

Finally reunited at London Heathrow, Luke (4) and Bethan (8) ran to greet their mother.

“Bethan cried, ‘Mummy! We had crisps and chocolate for breakfast!’” smiles Becki.

The family are now living in Wimborne, Dorset, relieved and thankful to be reunited after 32 days.

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